Goodbye Mcleod Ganj, India – we will return And
Our 4–5 year “India and Neighbors” Bicycle Touring plan
(see pictures for this Newsletter at
Hello from Mcleod Ganj, in the mountainous north of India. Both bikes
are built and in pristine working order. We are ready to start pedaling
to Nepal and all points south but the rain just won’t stop. The monsoon
rains were supposed to end last week but apparently Mother Nature
doesn’t read the guide books. Some of the downpours are harder than
anything I have ever seen before. We need to leave soon because we have
to be out of India by Nov. 1st and estimate it is 1000 kilometers (600
miles) on our non direct mountainous way to the Nepali border. This
newsletter list is huge and takes several days to completely send out
(750/hour) so hopefully we are on the road when you receive this. Either
way we will post almost daily updates on our Facebook group page which
you do not need an account to view.
During the past few months we found a US$160/month apartment and
settled in. I worked on updating months of our web site and Cindie
converted our books to ePub files so they can be read on varies eBook
readers including Apples new iPad. There will be an announcement when
they are available. She also updated all of our Amazon Kindle books
which are available now.
Despite the rain we still manage to take 2–6 hour morning hikes on
the pine tree protected mountain trails several times a week and Cindie
goes to regular Yoga classes. The best part is volunteering to teach
English to Tibetan refugees, very fulfilling. I have written a long
story about this that I hope to send out in another newsletter.
We have been told that Mcleod Ganj is an expensive place compared to
other parts of India we will soon be cycling through but there is no
convincing us. It’s all relative. Last summer we were riding across the
USA and could only afford a campground with a shower twice a week. The
rest of the time, once we got east of the Rocky Mountains with its
abundant public lands, we were hiding in city parks and stealth camping
in questionably legal places. This may sound romantic but it gets old.
Here in India, even the expensive part, we can afford hotels, US$2
upscale restaurant meals, and ride a taxi wherever we want. India has
been one of the least expensive countries we have traveled and we no
longer feel poor on our modest income. One of my favorite pastimes is
hanging out in the groovy coffee shops and discussing deep topics with
locals and other foreigners from literally all over the world – everyone
can afford incredible India.
We have cycled through many places I considered nice to live or
retire but Cindie was never sold. But here Cindie loves the Tibetan
culture and the beautiful setting and I like the great hiking and mix of
cultures and religions. In short, we both love it. So far, in the over 8
years of our tour, we have never returned anywhere that didn’t have
family but I think this place is so special we will be back. But there
is the world to visit first……
Our 4–5 year “India and Neighbors” Bicycle Touring
I have planned bike trips on several continents but
India has been the most challenging due to several factors explained
We have a 10 year tourist visa which is an unusually
long time for most countries. The longest travel visas we received were
twelve months in Australia, nine months in China and New Zealand, and I
think we can stay as long as we want in Canada with an entry stamp.
Contrast this with the typical 30 – 90 day visa we get for most
countries. This super long Indian visa opens up a whole new world of
travel possibilities because it increases the most important ingredient
to any successful bike tour; flexibility. We have no plans of just
staying in India for the next decade but believe it will take four or
five years to see this area on our bikes. The ten year visa means we can
find our favorite spots and return anytime we like for an incredibly
cheap paradise. I already know Cindie’s pick; Mcleod Ganj.
The catch to this generous visa is we have to exit
India every six months for a gap of two months before we can return to
India for another six months. This is why I am calling this the “India
and neighbors” leg of our tour; we will have to ride into the
neighboring countries every half year to make this work. We plan on
visiting Nepal at least twice, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Tibet, and
possibly a summer in the UK to ride and give several presentations.
Flights from India to the UK are surprisingly cheap. Pakistan is also on
this list but we are putting it off until the end of our 4-5 year tour
in hopes the political climate and stability improve.
Another big factor that complicates making a travel
plan for India is the weather. During the summer the low subcontinent
plains are very hot and we want to be in the higher and cooler
mountains. In late summer the subcontinent experiences a monsoon with
heavy rains; we are at the tail end of that as I write. This means we
will have to find cool mountainous locations to hang out and let the
rain pass. I think of the monsoon season as the “off season” and a time
to lay low.
A lingering concern in any international travel is
political unrest. Once we arrived and started reading Indian newspapers
we have learned political unrest in the area including violence. From
experience we know that traveling through such areas is possible but
when these unstable areas have elections we stay away. Usually when a
place is having political tension an election will bring it to a head
and is best avoided. After all, we are in this to have a good time not
increase our risk any more than necessary. This put traveling through
West Bengal and the Darjeeling areas on the back burner, where they are
gearing up for elections, and already experiencing violence.
With the same logic of avoiding places when they are
having trouble I believe it is best to visit troubled areas when they
are experiencing peace. Sri Lanka had a civil war for years but has
cleared up in recent times and is open for tourists. Who knows how long
this peace will last, I hope forever, but we want to get our visit in
within the next year. Sri Lanka has some great sounding old British hill
stations that are likely spots to wait out the next summer’s monsoon.
So, below is what we plan to do from here - Mcleod
The heavy rains should be finished any day and we have
until Nov 1st to leave India (first 6 month gap) by crossing into Nepal.
We estimate this to be about 1,000 mountainous kilometers with side
trips. After a two or three month bicycle tour in Nepal we can cross
back into India for a six month tour visiting Varanasi, Goa, around the
southern tip. Then we head to the ferry crossing to Sri Lanka for our
next two month gap. Sri Lanka sounds like a great place to tour and a
place I never thought I would visit as a kid. Once we have been in Sri
Lanka for our minimum two months gap we are back in India. I am not sure
what route we will take through India from there but we will have
another six months to bike our way to Bangladesh for our third six
months gap out of India. After that we hope to visit the mysterious
state of Sikkim and probably another rainy season in the mountain hamlet
of Darjeeling, India.
From here our plan gets real fuzzy except we have to
visit Rajasthan, Kashmir, Punjab, Ladakh, and more. Many seasoned
travelers have told us no trip to India should be without experiencing
these gems. Beyond that Cindie has her sights set on touring Bhutan; a
country that usually requires a US$200/day/person tourist visa. That’s
right – for us to travel Bhutan it looks like it would cost Cindie and I
US$400 bucks each day! Now, I have given into her every travel whim
during our eight years on the road but this one I may not be able to
deliver. Neither Cindie nor I like the idea of only flying in for a
couple days just so we can say we have been there and show off the visa
stamp in our passport. If we go we would need at least a month to feel
like we got a taste of this Himalayan country. Of course if we multiply
30 days by US$400 we get nauseous. But Cindie has been emailing away
with contacts that took interest in our web site and believes she has a
shot of getting in cheaply as a volunteer or something. I think it is a
long shot but when Cindie gets something she wants to do stuck in her
head she is persistent. No matter what she comes up with I could never
tell her no.
Bhutan or not we can tour more of India and cross back
into Nepal for another two month gap. At some point I want to ride
through Tibet for six months but Cindie starts feeling sick at 4,000
meters. She said I should go and she could find a place to do yoga in
Nepal or India. Splitting up like this would be a first for our trip but
I want another tour of Tibet and Cindie doesn’t.
Last but not least we want to spend a lot of time in
Rajasthan and India’s Himalayan north. If we can travel in Pakistan for
a couple months or fly to the UK and/or Japan and back for a three month
gap in the summer we could spend a full year in these two very
interesting areas and still leave India every six months.
Wow, that was a lot of planning laid out and writing
all this down really helped me picture our future. The funny thing is we
seldom stick to our plans so you can expect our next few years cycling
in this area to not be exactly what is written above.
See Ye DownTheRoad